Note from KH Brent- In light of the Parkland massacre, I thought it appropriate to again reissue this post from the last time someone with an assault rifle committed mass murder.
Let us begin with some statements everyone on one side of this issue will agree with:
- No one wants to take away your guns;
- You have a constitutional right to bear arms;
- Even if a majority of people wanted to do away with guns, it’s too late. That train left the station long ago. There are simply too many guns out there to attempt to take them all away from their rightful owners;
- People do kill people. They just use guns to perform the act.
Now, let’s bring up Wyatt Earp and the American west of the nineteenth century. A great number of conservatives I know or know of like to use this time and place as a rally point for their side. A place and time of rugged individualism and self reliance. An era when no government told anyone what they could or couldn’t do. A… wait, that’s all what?
It is a myth. Mythology; an idealization of a utopia that never existed.
Wyatt Earp and his brothers wanted your guns. In fact, though there were underlying socio-political currents surrounding the gunfight at the OK Corral, the mitigating factor behind the legendary battle was the Clanton’s refusal to surrender their guns within the city limits. Mythology aside, no one in Tombstone, Arizona wanted any of these rugged, individualistic cowboys running around town drunk and armed. Not the sheriff or the mayor (government), the good citizens who ran the businesses and had invested in the future of the community (free enterprise), and certainly not the God fearing, men, women, and children who attended the local churches (evangelical Christians).
There’s an irony in that those groups who so steadfastly opposed weapons in their towns more than a century ago, would have now bought into the myth that the far right and the gun lobby have been feeding them over the past thirty years.
This isn’t even a deep lie. Think back to all those old westerns people would watch on television Saturday afternoon. The ones made by rugged individualists like John Ford and starring conservative icons like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. They wouldn’t let you have guns in town either. If you recall, it was the bad guy who wouldn’t give up his sidearm, creating a big headache for the good guys.
When did that get flipped upside down?
Now once the law abiding citizen left the city limits, he would have his gun returned to him. No one bothered him about possessing a gun on the ranch or farm. Once away from the civilization of these towns, a person needed their firearms. It was absolutely vital because there were bears and wolves and marauders who wanted to kill you and take your stuff. That’s why it was called the wild west; because it was and you could easily die in it.
There are still some pretty desolate places on this continent where one needs to have the protection of a firearm. There are still wild areas where coyotes and cougars, wolves and bears, still roam and threaten livestock. People still hunt for food and sport. They need and should have a right to bear arms.
In twenty-first century America, the vast majority of people live in bastions of civilization, packed into cities. There are crazy people in those cities, bad people too. There, guns are bad and that is why people generally oppose having them easily accessible to those bad and crazy people.
Conservatives will point out that Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation and some of the highest rates of gun violence. This is true but what they fail to point out is that Indiana is less than an hour’s drive from the Windy City, and it has some of the most lax gun laws in the country. So there really isn’t much reason to bar the front door when the back one is left wide open. Perhaps the good people of Illinois should exchange their state line with the Hoosier State for a border.
That works for Canada; it sits next to the biggest gun locker on the planet but yet has incredibly low incidents of gun violence. Contrary, to another great myth perpetuated by the far right, Canadians can own guns and they do. Most of Canada is one huge, arboreal forest outside of the major cities, with massive farms in the heartland. People who live in these areas have both handguns and long guns. They need them to survive and do their jobs. In the cities, no one thinks about owning a gun even though they could. Yes, bad people do have guns in Toronto, but they tend to use them on each other and not as often as one might think.
I believe that guns are like cars, a tool to be used properly for good purpose. When my sons reached a certain age, they wanted to drive a car. In order to achieve this goal, they had to register themselves with the government and learn the rules of the road. Then they had to be certified in those rules. Then they had to pay a tax for the privilege to drive. When they bought a car, that car had to meet certain safety standards to be allowed on the road. It had to be registered with the government and display that registration in an easily identifiable manner for both law enforcement and the general public. Finally, they had to carry insurance, not only to protect potential damage to themselves, but also to protect others against any harm they might inflict.
If we as a society, conservatives included, have no issue with all of this regulation simply to own and drive a car, why not apply similar rules to owning a gun?
The far right and the gun lobby (a multi-billion dollar capitalist venture) would counter by stating gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right and that driving a car isn’t. They would be wrong. The constitution guarantees the right to unrestricted travel within the borders of the United States. In a modern society, that requires the use of an automobile. It could also be achieved with a bus, train, or airplane, but individuals are restricted from operating these vehicles without special training and permissions.
The same way that an individual could be registered and trained to own and possess handguns and long rifles but be restricted from possessing an assault rifle.
I agree wholeheartedly that Americans have a constitutionally protected right to bear arms in the same way they have a right to free speech. But long ago, the Supreme Court established limits to that right, limits such as not being able to publicly slander another person’s character or liable them, or yell “fire” in a crowded theatre when there isn’t one.
That ruling establishes that constitutionally guaranteed rights aren’t unlimited. Why should the second amendment be any different from the first?
Ever since the era of the mass shooting began at the Texas watchtower half a century ago, some whack job with access to a gun or rifle has upon occasion gone off his nut and done what he could to take as many innocent people with him as possible. I have no doubt that the shooter in Las Vegas could not have been stopped from his final appointment any more than the watchtower shooter could have been, Or the Sandy Hook shooter… or the next shooter, and there will be a next shooter.
The difference is in the tools they used. Seventeen people died in that first incident in Texas so long ago. Thirty-one were wounded. The shooter used a long gun.
So far, fifty-nine have died in Las Vegas with almost six hundred wounded. That is an increase in victims by twenty-fold. The shooter had many semi-automatic assault rifles, easily modified to become fully automatic rifles.
It’s not about intent, it’s about the tools.
Let’s put it into a different perspective that some might find easier to understand. In 2001, easy access to passenger jets led bad people to turn them into a tool that killed three thousand people. As a society, we realized that we had provided too easy access to that tool. We put in restrictions and regulations that all law abiding people now follow. Today, bad people are left with using busses and cars as their tools and only dozens are killed. We can’t change the intent of those who want to do us harm, only limit the tools they can use to do it with.
Everyone agrees that any life lost in incidents like this is one too many. But we have to be practical; why not limit the number of times we have to repeat that mantra?
Let’s go back to the beginning and our four statements. For those who would want to see every gun removed from the planet, that’s not a valid position. For those who believe that the second amendment gives them the right to own a weapon capable of killing hundreds of people quickly, it might be time to rethink your position. Look back to the pragmatism of our pioneering ancestors. They were no tree huggers.
This is not a political issue. Stop making it one. There’s a practical, middle ground all sides can agree to that will save lives. It’s time to come to the table and find it.